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Save by shopping for generic drugs

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These cost increases fall hardest on those who lack prescription drug insurance. A study conducted by researchers from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, reveals that consumers without prescription drug coverage pay, on average, 60.3 percent more for prescription drugs than the federal government pays for the prescription drugs it buys for its hospitals, employees and retirees.

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The federal government, like large insurance companies, is able to use its buying power to negotiate steep decreases in the costs of prescription drugs. Individual consumers without health insurance can't.

Despite the lack of group-buying muscle, careful consumers can cut their prescription drug tabs significantly by comparison shopping in their local area and online.

A study by the National Center for Policy Analysis, a policy research think tank, reveals that aggressive price-comparison shopping can reduce the costs for some common drugs by as much as 90 percent.

The best way to trim prescription drug costs is to call some local pharmacies, grocery and department stores and also check online sources. While you may end up having to order your meds from a variety of local and online sources, you can save substantial amounts of money.

The safety issue
Pharmacists note that there is no discernable difference in the quality of brand-name and generic drugs and that the FDA regulates both.

The FDA's director of the Office of Generic Drugs, Gary J. Buehler, affirms that, saying: "The American public can be confident that when a generic drug product is approved, it has met the rigorous standards established by the FDA with respect to identity, strength, quality, purity and potency.

"Through review of data on proposed products, the Office of Generic Drugs assures that generic products will perform the same as their respective brand name reference products. In the same manner, generic manufacturing and packaging sites must pass all of the same quality standards as those of brand-name drugs and the generic products must meet the same exacting specifications as any new innovator drug product."

Because generics have been on the market for years, there is more time for potential side effects and problems to surface than there is with new drugs that have their effectiveness and safety tested in limited clinical trials., a project of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, claims that generics are actually safer than name-brand drugs due to the difference in the time period that brand-name and generics have been out in the market being used by consumers.

The site notes that there have been many more incidences of health problems associated with brand-name drugs up to seven years after launch than there have been with generic drugs.

According to a report: "Examples of such disasters, which collectively have killed hundreds of Americans and injured thousands more, have evolved the arthritis drug and painkillers Oraflex, Suprol and Zomax; the antidepressant Merital; the high blood pressure drug Selacryn; the diet drugs Pondimin, half of the once popular fen/phen combination, and its close cousin Redux; Posicor, a drug for high blood pressure and chest pain; the diabetes drug Rezulin; and the painkiller Duract. Because of the serious dangers of these 10 drugs, all were taken off the market." recommends that consumers stay away from newly launched drugs for several years to avoid just such problems.

Consumer's Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, has charged that companies launching brand-name drugs neglect to report problems with newer drugs and that drug industry lobbyists are working to water down new proposed drug safety measures under consideration by Congress.

As many brand-name drugs go off patent, more generic drugs will enter the market in coming years, which is likely to slow overall price increases in the prescription drug market.

Some useful resources in the hunt for reasonably priced prescription drugs include:
AARP Prescription Drug Guide
Consumer Reports Medical Guide's corrections policy -- Updated: July 28, 2008
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